The Story Behind the Story - Lafayette and Silas Deane

If you’ve read Le Chevalier, you know that the Marquis de Lafayette plays a minor, but pivotal, role in the story. The marquis mentions Silas Deane, another historical figure, although he doesn’t make an actual appearance.

For those of you who love the history behind your historical romances like I do, I thought I’d give you a little of the background that inspired passages like this where the marquis is trying to recruit his friend, Le Chevalier de Mont Trignon, to join the American’s cause:

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier,
Marquis de La Fayette
“I am to meet General Washington in a few days,” the marquis said at last, licking a finger with a grace that made the faux pas appear acceptable. He sipped his wine and watched pairs of dancers filter by, their hands lightly touching. “Will you come with me? Deane has granted commissions to many Frenchmen, and I am certain there would be one for you if I were to recommend you.” His dark eyes turned serious. “You know I would be happy to do so.”

This passage comes from the first chapter of Le Chevalier. You can download that here for free.

The other day I tweeted that Silas Deane was one of those historical figures that always seemed to have gotten a bad rap. He was our* first official foreign diplomat and, as such, was sent to France to enlist the aid of the French government – and pretty much anybody else from whom he could garner arms, munitions, or money.

The Continental Congress, ineffectual ditherers that they often were, never really gave Deane the authority to do much of anything. He sent long letters back to Congress, giving updates on his progress and requesting permission to execute various agreements. Some of which Congress actually responded to, but not always in a way that was actually helpful.

Anyone who has ever held a role where they had the responsibility to act, but not the authority has to feel for the guy.

Official support from the French government was slow in coming. At first, they were reluctant to
Silas Deane, 1766
portrait by William Johnston

This painting was done three years before Napoleon
was born. Still, I have to wonder is this was where 
Bonaparte got the idea for his classic pose. Or maybe
they both just had itchy undergarments.
throw their support behind the conflict with England until American independence had officially been declared. Even so, Deane was successful in garnering shiploads of arms and ammunition, if not funds.

But while most of the necessary accouterments of war were hard to come by, one was apparently not – soldiers of fortune. Evidently, France had no end of young noblemen (and those less than noble) who were willing to risk their lives and their fortunes (if they had one) on the possibility of glory.  The Marquis de Lafayette was one such recruit.

Smithsonian has a wonderful article that shares Washington’s reaction to meeting his latest French “major general.”  Yet Lafayette, as Washington was soon to discover, was different than the average mercenary. He didn’t need to come to America to establish a name for himself. The only child of an aristocratic, wealthy, and militarily notable family, he already had what those in his circle considered most important.  As if that weren’t enough, he married (at the ripe old age of 16) into one of France’s wealthiest families.

Since Congress could be fickle when it came to approving Silas Deane’s commission, Lafayette actually volunteered to serve without pay. I can imagine that meant quite a bit to Washington, a man who also turned down any direct remuneration for his military services.

Le Chevalier
Here’s an exchange between Alexandra Turner and the marquis:

“What will you do if they don’t offer you a regiment to command?” she asked, trying to take her mind off her discomfort.

“Pay for one myself, I suppose,” the marquis responded, with an airy wave of his lace-covered wrist.

“Oh,” Alex replied, not knowing what else to say.

It had never occurred to her one man might have enough money to outfit and pay his own regiment. Moreover, he was not an American. Why would he risk his fortune and his life for a cause not his own? Had she, perhaps, encountered a nobleman who deserved to be called noble?

It would bear some thinking…

Alexandra (Alex), a third generation American, is somewhat suspicious of nobility. As uninformed with all matters of aristocracy as I am, she’s confused as to whether a chevalier actually counts as one of the privileged class, but she’s pretty certain how she feels about a marquis.

Mont Trignon and the marquis soon part company, but I thought you’d enjoy this little behind the scenes look at the history that inspires my stories. Lafayette does make another appearance later in the book, along with his boss. Perhaps I’ll share that in an upcoming post. Or perhaps you’ll download Le Chevalier and discover it for yourself.

Happy reading!


*As always, I write from an American perspective.

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